What Is Situational Leadership®? Understanding This Leadership Model

Office Manager Holding Meeting With Her Team

Human beings are complicated creatures. We may have a number of things in common, but there is no doubt there are also a number of distinguishing factors that make each of us unique. For instance:

  • Generation – When you were born in many respects dictates how you view the world, how you view work and how you determine what you want to get out of life
  • Wiring – Think about DiSC® and/or Social Styles® here. Are you a quick decision-maker by nature, more analytical or more aware of feelings and emotions? Are you more comfortable “asking and listening” or “sharing and explaining”?
  • Interests – What are you passionate about? What drives you? What aspects of your job would you do for free?
  • Talents – What are you naturally good at? What sorts of tasks can you give very little forethought to, and somehow deliver excellence?

Most of us are sorting out these types of things for ourselves. This is why it becomes exponentially more difficult when we become people managers and need to help others figure them out as well.

The Trouble With Leadership

Leadership, by its very nature, can be problematic. It can be messy and vague. It is, at best, a probability science. On top of all that, when you assume the role or take on the responsibility of being a leader you will be judged! You may not want to be judged, or think it is fair, but you will be. For example:

  • Your department or division signed up to deliver certain outcomes. If you fall short, a reasonable first place to start with an “after-action-review” is, What could you (the leader) have done differently? Did you wait too long to make certain decisions? Or make others far too quickly and without nearly enough data?
  • There is the affective side of those judgment days as well. How do the people on your team like working for you? What is their level of engagement? What is turnover like in your department compared to others? Most companies conduct climate surveys to give them a line of sight into how different layers of management are doing in this regard.

And as opposed to getting easier, you could make a strong argument that leadership is getting exponentially more difficult. Why? Change! The pace of organizational change is unprecedented, and there is no sign anywhere that it plans to slow down. Change is relentless and increasingly disruptive.

The good news is that leaders, especially the strong and well-prepared type, have never been in higher demand!

Concepts Behind the Situational Leadership® Model

The Situational Leadership® Model has been a model that has helped leaders “prepare and be strong” for over 50 years. Here are four foundational pillars that continue to contribute to the viability of the Situational Leadership® Model:

  1. The Situational Leadership® framework teaches leaders how to think. With the overwhelming number of confounding variables that exist in the world of influence today, the Situational Leadership® approach helps leaders concentrate on, and be cue sensitive to, the most important drivers of leadership success and effectiveness
  2. The Situational Leadership® methodology teaches leaders how to adapt. As opposed to relying upon impulsive reaction that almost invariably favors personal comfort, the Situational Leadership® framework trains leaders to expand and become proficient with an entire spectrum of practical and proven approaches
  3. The Situational Leadership® Model teaches leaders how to communicate. Whether it is virtually or face-to-face, sooner or later leaders need to engage with those they are attempting to influence and set goals or milestones; provide and receive feedback; discuss…direct…or empower
  4. The Situational Leadership® framework teaches leaders how to help others advance. The world is dynamic. Hardly anything “stays the same.” Therefore, Situational Leaders need to act as catalysts in the growth and development of those they influence. They also need to be ready to step in and redirect any performance slippage (regression) that may take place

The secret to becoming a Situational Leader is mastering the fundamentals that form the foundation of the model. The Situational Leadership® Model is a thoughtful and practical tool that relies upon the leader’s flexibility, communication and discipline.

Why the Situational Leadership® Model Works

As previously mentioned, the world moves fast! The Situational Leadership® Model works because it slows the world down. It’s like a routine a competitive golfer goes through before hitting an important shot. There are “steps” Situational Leaders take when they engage in an attempt to influence that reflect the pillars of the foundation.

  1. Identify the Task – Leadership initiates with something to do: an objective to fulfill, a goal to accomplish, a task to complete. This seems easy, and sometimes it is, but it can also be tricky because all tasks are by no means created equal. For instance, establishing parameters of success for a task like “painting a wall” is much different from establishing parameters of success for a task like “using good judgement.” Generally speaking, the more definition there is around the parameters of the task, the higher the probability that leader and follower will be aligned on “what good looks like”
  2. Assess Readiness – Probably the most important thing a Situational Leader does is to align with the follower on the follower’s ability and willingness to perform the task. Crucial in that context is that the “readiness assessment” is task-specific
  3. Engage With a Style – Answers to the first two questions inform this step. The leader needs to be able to flex their approach to ensure they can be Directive with “novices,” Empower “experts” or Participate with followers that are somewhere in between for a particular task
  4. Monitor the Movement – Two questions should be in the front of the leaders’ mind throughout the influence process:
    1. Is this follower learning/developing?
    2. Is this follower slipping/regressing?

Does employing these steps “work” when it comes time to lead? Based on 50 years of experience, yes!

How to Jump Into the Situational Leadership® Model

As for advice on how to become a Situational Leader, please consider the following.

  1. Put Yourself Out There! – Leadership is about helping others. Plain and simple! It is about putting yourself into situations (where your actions will almost invariably be judged) in the service of others. It is so much easier to avoid opportunities to lead because:
    1. Who knows how your boss will react if you give them unsolicited feedback on how they are coming across?
    2. You have enough problems in your life right now without trying to help resolve a conflict between your peers
    3. If you take steps to hold someone on your team accountable for their actions, they might quit…or contact HR…or something else that isn’t good
  2. The first step to becoming a leader is to have (or develop) the intestinal fortitude to “get in the game.” It is the difference between seeing a fight break out and jumping in to try and stop it…or letting it proceed while recording it on your phone
  3. Get Some Feedback (Establish a Baseline) – There are literally a plethora of assessments you can turn to for valuable insight into your strengths and areas for self-development as a leader. At The Center for Leadership Studies, we administer the lead-self and lead-others instruments which provide a leader with their:
    1. Style Profile – Leadership approaches they use naturally/intuitively
    2. Style Adaptability – The degree to which the leader can flex to various styles based on the readiness of the follower to perform

Like most other things in life, measurement and feedback are key components of continuous improvement as a leader.

Improve Your Teams With Learning Solutions From The Center for Leadership Studies

At The Center for Leadership Studies, we have been at the forefront of leadership development for over 50 years. We truly believe, on the basis of our current reality, that the Situational Leadership® Model is more relevant today than it ever has been for leaders across industries and in every walk of life.

Leading people successfully and effectively is not easy (massive understatement!). Every opportunity presents unique challenges because people have unique needs in combination with varying levels of relevant experience and skill. Situational Leadership® is a model that can help leaders navigate those challenges and match their approach to the performance needs of those they are attempting to influence.